David Frum

09.18.12

The Sinister Message Behind Romney's "Gaffe"

Part two of a response to Mitt Romney's remarks on the "47%." Read part one here.

David Brooks blames the Romney 47% comments on maladroitness: the awkward mis-expression of a man pretending to be something he's not.

Likely so.

But they also reveal that Romney has been reshaped by this campaign. The dread to which Romney gives voice in his Boca Raton speech - that "makers" are about to be electorally overwhelmed by "takers" - is a dread expressed again and again by conservative media and conservative thought-leaders. "Democracy is two lions and a lamb voting on what's for dinner": how often have we heard that old country-club quip repeated these past four years? Only this time, the quip is repeated not as a joke, but with real fear.

The background to so much of the politics of the past four years is the mood of apocalyptic terror that has gripped so much of the American upper class.

Hucksters of all kinds have battened on this terror. They tell them that free enterprise is under attack; that Obama is a socialist, a Marxist, a fascist, an anti-colonialist. Only by donating to my think tank, buying my book, watching my network, going to my movie, can you - can we - stop him before he seizes everything to give to his base of "bums," as Charles Murray memorably called them.

And what makes it all both so heart-rending and so outrageous is that all this is occurring at a time when economically disadvantaged Americans have never been so demoralized and passive, never exerted less political clout. No Coxey's army is marching on Washington, no sit-down strikes are paralyzing factories, no squatters are moving onto farmer's fields. Occupy Wall Street immediately fizzled, there is no protest party of the political left.

The only radical mass movement in this country is the Tea Party, a movement to defend the interests of elderly incumbent beneficiaries of the existing welfare state. Against that movement is a government of liberal technocrats dependent on campaign donations from a different faction of the American super-rich than that which backs Mitt Romney himself.

From the greatest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, the rights and perquisites of wealth have emerged undiminished - and the central issue in this election is whether those rights and perquisites shall be enhanced still more, or whether they should be allowed to slip back to the level that prevailed during the dot.com boom.

Yet even so, the rich and the old are scared witless! Watch the trailer of Dinesh D'Souza's new movie to glimpse into their mental universe: chanting swarthy mobs, churches and banks under attack, angry black people grabbing at other people's houses.

It's all a scam, but it's a spectacularly effective scam. Mitt Romney tried to make use of the scam, and now instead has fallen victim to it himself.

I'd say somebody should write a book about all, but then I remember: somebody already did.